M, 96 minutes
Review by © Jane Freebury
In the bad old days, rock stars were by definition blokes and a bit of poor behaviour went with the territory. It was then, as the 1960s turned into the 1970s, that a girl playing a bass guitar, almost as long as she was tall, claimed a spot on a crowded stage.
Though Suzi Quatro did smoke and had plenty of attitude, this girl from Detroit, a music city if ever there was one, was wholesome by rock‘n’roll standards. The sex and the drugs were not for her, something she attributes to her strict mother and a Catholic upbringing.
Quatro appears in interview throughout this new music doco. It is directed by Liam Firmager and has been produced in Australia, a country she has toured many times. Her most recent visit concluded this month.
It seems fitting that a country that appreciates Quatro and where she has toured on some 30 occasions has made the first documentary about her.
a family schism that has never healed
Like some of the famous older rockers, Quatro just keeps on keeping on. Though it’s hard to attribute her longevity to clean living when other rockers, now septuagenarians who did it all, have lived to tell the tale.
As a teenager, she was performing on bass in the Pleasure Seekers, an all-girl band comprising sisters and friends, when she suddenly took herself off to London. It seemed to result in a family schism that has never healed.
Record producer Mickie Most recalls how he spotted her and launched her, re-packaged in a leather catsuit with her all-male support band, including husband-to-be Len Tuckey.
You couldn’t miss her. Long blonde hair flying, a pocket rocket in a leather jumpsuit, the first woman in front of a rock band.
Considering the number of docos on other rock stars that have been made, recognition for the indomitable Suzi Quatro is long overdue. This, the first doco of her life and career, is jam-packed with archival and interview material that perhaps helps to make up for this. However, not all is that insightful.
Her music regularly topped the charts in European countries and has had a particularly consistent fanbase in Australia, but it didn’t really catch on in her home country, and the question this raises remains.
Debbie (Blondie) Harry makes some interesting points, as does record producer and songwriter Mike Chapman, an Australian who was a key player in the music industry in England in the 1970s. Was Quatro ‘too soon’? Was something lost in translation? Or was it because the US didn’t take to glam rock. Mmm…but wasn’t she raw and hard rock rather than glam?
The ratio of talking heads to vision of Suzi in action is too high. Alice Cooper and Joan (I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll) Jett are good value but more vision of the performer’s concerts, more of the music, and even vision of quiet moments can go a long way.
On the other hand, the frank views of her sister Patti and some other members of her family about her music and career make you wince. Her family who were also into music in a big way wrote her out of their lives, an estrangement that must have had a defining effect on her.
Yet she seemed to want out. She went to work very young and was doing five shows a week, when she ‘should have been in school’. She has been indefatigable ever since. She has made guest television appearances as ‘Leather Tuscadero’ in Happy Days with the Fonz, appeared in Absolutely Fabulous with Patsy and Eddy, has hosted a chat show and was a hit in a starring role in the musical Annie Get Your Gun.
a pioneer when other females in the business were singers like Lulu and Cilla Black
In 2019, it’s a bit shocking to see her get her bottom slapped and pronounced ‘rear of the year’ before a TV interview. An in-depth report on how she survived the music industry could make interesting viewing.
She says that when there were no female rocker role models, her very first inspiration was Elvis. In 1973 she emerged a pioneer when other females in the business were singers like Lulu and Cilla Black.
Bold, mouthy, a looker free of artifice, she was an original, the first woman to lead a rock band, sing lead and play an instrument. This is a very comprehensive tribute to her career.
First published in the Canberra Times on 24 November 2019